LONG live the Queen – but not in an independent Scotland, writes Colin Fox
NO COUNTRY in the world is more engaged in the democratic debate over self-determination than Scotland today. September’s referendum has energised people to a remarkable extent with debates on the “democratic deficit” at the heart of Scottish politics now taking place in households, schools, workplaces, village halls and urban community centres from one end of the country to the other.
And yet amid this political frenzy sits a fundamental denial of democracy, which was exposed again last week when Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for a written constitution. Whilst the Scottish Government’s proposals are ones I warmly welcome and rightly reiterate that “the people of Scotland are sovereign”, that sovereignty is somewhat undermined by insisting it remain in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable and unrepresentative “monarch”. Section 9 of the bill states “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is to be the head of state succeeded by her heirs and successors to the Crown according to law and will continue to enjoy all rights, powers and privileges”.
I am sure the Scottish Socialist Party is not the only one to see the flaw in this plan. Constitutional sovereignty only rests in the people when they also have the right to elect their own head of state. “Hereditary privileges” and “the Divine Right of Kings” have no place in democratic constitutions worthy of the name.
The view that “the people are sovereign” cannot be upheld if we maintain a constitution that describes us as “subjects of Her Majesty”.
The Scottish Socialist Party is in favour of a modern, democratic republic for our new independent country. The British monarchy is clearly not modern, patently not democratic and self-evidently not egalitarian. Yet such fundamental principles are uppermost in the minds of all energised and engaged people across Scotland at this time.
The most common defence of the constitutional status quo is that: “The Queen has no real powers and those she does have are largely ceremonial”. It presents the view that economic and political power has long since shifted from the landed gentry and aristocracy to a multinational corporate elite. “Her Majesty” is in effect a trophy of the British capitalist classes instructed by parliament to entertain foreign dignitaries and welcome visiting celebrities.
And yet there are those who insist “the Queen is responsible for 60 years of political and constitutional “stability”, “order” and “continuity”. The inference here is that revolutions, political turmoil and coups d’etat don’t happen in the UK because “Her Majesty” acts as a stabilising force, a constant reference point in an ever-changing world. This argument is not only the mirror image of the previous one, it exposes its advocates to serious charges indeed. For the question inevitably arises, from where did she get those powers?
The Tory right insist there is nothing wrong with the “Divine Right of Kings”, “hereditary powers”, and legal terms such as “subjects” and “commoners” as the system is more than compensated by a surplus of democracy elsewhere.
But for the SSP Thomas Paine put it best when he wrote in The Rights of Man in 1792: “All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny … mankind is not heritable property. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals.
“And is there anything more absurd than the hereditary principle? It is as absurd as the hereditary mathematician, or a hereditary poet laureate. The vanity and presumption of government from beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and indolent of tyrannies.”
The Scottish Socialist Party favours an elected head of state and a modern democratic republic. We want our leaders to be answerable to the people they purport to serve. Such an approach would also legislate for the automatic right of recall of disgraced and corrupt MPs so that they can be removed by their constituents.
Only with such measures can it then be said that “the people are sovereign” and our head of state enjoys a truly democratic mandate. «
Colin Fox is national spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party. His pamphlet, “For a modern democratic republic”, is available at www.scottishsocialistparty.org priced £3.99